Monday, August 15, 2011

Sometimes a Sweater is Much More than a Sweater

We spend so much time trying to select the perfect gifts for those we love, and we spend as much time anticipating the gifts we receive. How few of those gifts really endure in our homes and our memories?

One that I treasure is still with me although she has an old pillowcase over her head to protect her from dust. She now sets in a closet, and I wonder what to do with her. Once she was a dear doll, almost three feet tall, brought to me by Santa one Christmas Eve. She stood under the tree, waiting for me to arise and claim her, wearing a delicate lace veil over a satin wedding gown so pure and white that it reflected the multi-colored lights like rainbows painted across banks of snow.

Mother also selected an elegant, brilliant dinner ring as my gift for having earned a degree at the end of four college years. It is two concentric circles of fiery Australian opals at the center of which is the largest and most alive stone. I still take out that ring and admire it although I have few places where a dinner ring is actually a necessary accessory. I never moved in grand circles and rarely dress for dinner.

After my daughter was born and I had long since abandoned all hope of ever being fashionable again, Mother gave me a knit sweater befitting my October birthday. It had autumnal hues, including a background of deep, dark soft green, the color of pumpkin vines. Upon this backdrop set ripe pumpkins and a cornucopia full of Nature’s harvest. The effect was beautiful, and like Keats’ Ode, “To Autumn,” celebrated the season of my birth.

Today, this sweater might be the topic of derision in a Worst Holiday Sweater contest, not because threads sprout from it, pulled by children, sharp drawers, and cats’ claws, but because of its big design. Nevertheless, I send it to the cleaners each spring and bring it out each fall. I wear it in my home where the thermostat is set in keeping with energy savings--at a modest 67°. I wrap myself in this sweater to keep warm, but it is the memory that keeps me warmer than the knit.

When Mother gave me the sweater, I thanked her and told her that I thought it one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. She said that we should always try to give a birthday gift that the recipient would never buy for herself because of the cost or the impractical nature of the gift. Mother must have noticed that all my money went to child care and gymnastics or soccer and art camps each summer. She was probably well aware that I had not bought a pretty thing for myself in a very long time, and she gave me that pretty thing: her attention without criticism, her love and support. Oh, and a sweater--a beautiful, comfortable sweater.